Catherine Lynch couldn't imagine what in the world was going on.

At noon, as she walked home from Catasauqua High for lunch that fateful day in 1944, the street outside 426 Walnut was packed with cars.

So many people were on the front porch that she went in the back door. The house was abuzz with activity. All her mother's friends were there. So were the Catasauqua police chief and the parish priest, Father Munley of St. Lawrence the Martyr Catholic Church.

A family friend, who was washing dishes, told Catherine she should go talk to her mother in the living room.

"They told us we lost your brother," Alice Lynch said to her stunned teen-aged daughter, "but we don't believe it."

Catherine Lynch Pirog, now 76 and retired in Florida, said her parents went to their graves believing that their high-flying son, 26-year-old World War II fighter ace Tommy Lynch, would someday return.

"When Tommy was shot down, my father sat by the radio for hours and hours listening for any news of him," Pirog said of William Lynch. "Eventually, it caused him to have a stroke."

Lt. Col. Thomas J. Lynch was one of the top three fighter aces when, 60 years ago today, he went down in his P-38 Lightning in the southwest Pacific off New Guinea.

He had shot down 20 Japanese planes, mostly fast-moving Zeroes. The twin columns of tiny Rising Sun flags on the P-38's hull were like notches in a gunslinger's pistol.

Ironically, Lynch wasn't shot down by a Japanese fighter pilot. On a routine mission with Maj. Richard I. "Dick" Bong, the all-time No. 1 American ace with 40 kills, Lynch spotted barges loaded with weapons. He swept down upon them, only to be hit with a surprise barrage of flak.

Bong flew into then Allentown-Bethlehem Airport to personally tell Alice Lynch the details of her son's death.

One engine on fire, one of the plane's two propellers gone, Lynch struggled to bail out. He was poised to jump, Bong said, when the plane exploded.

Eagle Scout, fighter ace, hero

In some ways Tommy Lynch was a likely hero.

An Eagle Scout, he had always shown leadership qualities.

At the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a degree in chemical engineering in 1940, he was an undefeated boxer and member of the military Scabbard and Blade Society.

"He was always a go-getter," recalled his brother, 78-year-old Daniel Lynch of Ormrod.

When William and Alice Lynch went to commencement at Pitt, their up-and-coming son stunned them with the announcement he had joined the Army Air Corps. It was before Pearl Harbor, and the United States hadn't entered World War II.

"My parents couldn't understand it," said Catherine Lynch Pirog. "He said he wouldn't be gone very long, and that he'd get back to his studies later."